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  • Updated: 8:03am
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Up to three years in prison for Chinese internet users who spread rumours

Top court introduces sentences of up to three years for libellous posts forwarded over 500 times or messages leading to mass protests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 2:21pm

A libellous online post that is forwarded more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times could land its author in jail for up to three years, according to the mainland's first judicial interpretation to control rumours on the internet.

The legal move comes as the Communist Party ramps up its campaign to rein in the internet following President Xi Jinping's call to "seize the ground of new media".

I would have to shut up on the internet now. If you want to put a person in jail, the easiest way would be to forward his untrue post 500 times

The Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, the country's top prosecution body, jointly issued the document yesterday. It set out the terms on what constitutes a criminal offence when it comes to spreading rumours or misinformation on the internet. The guidelines take effect today.

Besides quantifying the number of views or reposts that can get an internet user in trouble, the interpretation stipulates that any untrue post found to cause mental illness, self-harm or suicide can be considered a "serious case" also punishable by up to three years in jail. Other such "serious cases" include posts that lead to mass protests, instigate ethnic or religious clashes, damage the nation's image or "cause a bad international effect".

Aside from facing libel charges for online rumours, an offender can also be charged with stirring up trouble, extortion or operating an illegal business.

Such charges previously referred only to crimes that occurred in what is described as "the public arena" and did not cover the internet. "Cyberspace is also part of the public sphere," said Sun Jungong , the top court's spokesman. "The internet has already been intertwined with people's real life."

But the legal document still provides leeway for real-name internet users who accuse officials of wrongdoing.

Sun said those who posted false corruption allegations about officials online could be exempted from libel charges as long as the content is proved not to be deliberately fabricated.

Tong Zhiwei, professor of law at Shanghai's East China University, said the exemption clause showed the leadership faced a dilemma.

"On the one hand, online rumours are perceived to damage social stability. On the other hand, the internet has increasingly become an indispensable component of the anti-graft campaign," Tong said.

The new rules have already been criticised by internet users and given rise to serious concerns about freedom of speech.

"I would have to shut up on the internet now," one said. "If you want to put a person in jail, the easiest way would be to forward his untrue post 500 times."

Beijing rights lawyer Zhou Ze said he was "deeply upset" about the legal document. "It aims to put free speech under surveillance," he said.

Additional reporting by Laura Zhou

 

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This article is now closed to comments

HiggsSinglet
the biggest rumor mill in PRC is its propaganda machine. If their system is transparent and stop this confucius fooling the citizentradition, there is no need for rumors! Rumor exists is due to no confidence with the state's propaganda machine!!!
goncalo
"A libellous online post that is forwarded more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times could land its author in jail for up to three years".
So a person will be punished not for what he does, but for what others do with his post. What a primitive idea! The Mainland's so called legal system is worth of the Middle Ages.
ejmciii
I guess that one is exempt if he is an employee of the Borg sharing the glorious truth of the glorious party.
carl.curmudgeon.7
MSNBC staff and on-air talent would be executed.
Except that they're actually a government organ in this country; the unofficial Ministry of Propaganda, if you will.
bobby.lentz.3
This type of stuff would eliminate the American media entirely. Jails would be full.
dave.mcquire.75
What amazes me is how a corrupt regime like China's people's Republic can be so sanctimonious over the nonsense of their subjects. These trolls can abuse their people till the rice paddies fail but let someone create a rumor and they wet their collective uniform pants.
Three years in a Chinese prison. I hear it's akin to dog years because one year feels like seven - but that just might be an ugly rumor.
criticalthinker1982
Theres good reasoning for the communist party to levy hefty prison terms for this behavior. If they didn't the people there would rise and become uncontrollable. This is nothing more than a fear tactic. China has many many people and they can't jail all of them for civil disobedience. The fear tactics they use works well on humans. Look at the US news media. COnstantly peddling fear. This is done to keep a well docile population in control. 20 years ago, the POTUS would NEVER have gotten away with all these crimes and scandals. Now it's all A-OK.
frinkly.junglehead
I know where Matt Drudge won't be moving. hehehehe
fhuh.kew
Obama is president of China too ?
jason.mailer.1

I wonder if this would this apply to party propaganda ?
jake.pannel.1
If this happened in American most liberal sites would be out of business......hmmmm maybe an option.
deendayal.lulla
China is not an exception. Nations all over the world want to muzzle the internet. Recenlty,one Chinese netizen posted videos of judges enjoying romp with prostitutes,and action was taken against the judges. I thought Chinese netiiens enjoyed more freedom than other nations. Why punish the net user for people liking his posting? Is this not unfair?
txgtrpr
The Chinese don't want troll's **** readers off.
L.L.
****... Echte Communisme... No freedom of thinking and No freedom of speech ... they can go to the HELL... CN... !
This is the reason why CN people so unacceptable in the WORLD... even I was a 100% chinese, I don't like CN! They still living in the hole-cave! The EU like CN, because only for business/money, not for anymore else! Not your people! Not your RULE! Not your SYSTEEM!
Wake up CN! If your people are LAZY... CN has been along time ago the second AFRICA!!!
CN people are now all in the sentences for all their life... have a social deprivation... I know now why your YUAN money NOT acceptable here in EU, USA, AUS, CAN... etc... of whole the WORLD... you can not follow us... it is so SAD CN... ! WAKE UP MEN! Your are not so popular anymore, ... accept only your stupid BUSINESS, you are been used stupid!
Vrijheid van meningsuiting... (I'm stupid too, been used too, here!... hihihi!)
johnh
Thank God for Free Hong Kong
dave.mcquire.75
And apparently they don't like the competition because it interferes with their message.

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